In-form Furyk left out of first Ryder Cup session

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - United States captain Corey Pavin sprang a surprise when he omitted in-form Jim Furyk for Friday's opening fourball matches at the 38th Ryder Cup.

World number five Furyk, a veteran of six previous Ryder Cups and one of the steadiest players in the game, clinched Tour Championship and FedExCup honours in Atlanta Sunday and was a possible partner for Tiger Woods.

Pavin instead opted to send out world number one Woods with fourth-ranked Steve Stricker for the Cup holders in the third match of the day against Britain's Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.

"He (Furyk) said he's been tired," Pavin told reporters before adding with a smile, "He was counting the money and he's been very tired.

"You'll see him out in the afternoon (for the foursomes)."

Woods, who has struggled for form this year and failed to qualify automatically for the U.S. team, gelled superbly with Stricker at the 2009 Presidents Cup where they were unbeaten in four matches.

"I thought it was a good slot for them so I put them there," Pavin said of his choice of Woods and Stricker for the third match.

Asked how Woods had reacted when told he would not play in the first match of an opening Ryder Cup session since Brookline in 1999, Pavin replied: "He's fine.

"He's been saying the same thing to me since I asked him if he wanted to play on the team as a (wildcard) pick. He just said: "Whatever you want me to do, I'll do'."

Pavin's counterpart Colin Montgomerie was surprised by the world number one's position in the fourball order.

"I was expecting Tiger to go first or fourth," the Scot said. "Tiger, being hidden, is a different move. But, as we all know, every point is important wherever it might be."

MOUTH-WATERING ENCOUNTER

In Friday's opening game, world number two Phil Mickelson and big-hitting Dustin Johnson will take on Britain's Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer in a mouth-watering encounter.

Four-times major winner Mickelson and rookie Johnson are birdie machines while world number three Westwood has been arguably the most consistent player in the game over the last 18 months.

"It will be a great game," Montgomerie said after the pairings were announced during the opening ceremony at Celtic Manor.

"The atmosphere on the first tee will be remarkable. I have put out reasonable strength to start with."

Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, a widely expected partnership, will take on Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in the second match.

In the final fourball, Britain's Luke Donald and Irishman Padraig Harrington take on U.S. rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, another surprise move by Pavin according to Montgomerie.

"I did not expect Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington to be playing two rookies in the last game, which is an important game," the European captain said.

Pavin defended his decision, saying he wanted to send the two rookies off last after witnessing the atmosphere of the earlier matches.

"Those guys are so excited to get out there and play," he said. "I wanted then to see and experience some things that were happening with the first few matches.

"I felt like if I waited to play them that they would probably go crazy waiting."

The U.S. won the Ryder Cup for the first time in nine years with a 16-1/2 to 11-1/2 victory over Europe at Valhalla in 2008 under the captaincy of Paul Azinger.

Montgomerie's powerful team, however, are widely viewed as favourites for the 38th edition with the Americans not having won the trophy on foreign soil since 1993.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)